Social Security has posted its final numbers on fees paid to attorneys and others for representing Social Security claimants in 2016. The total was $1.093 billion, down only slightly from $1.094 billion in 2015. Fees are down $336 million, or 23%, from the peak in 2010.
All attorneys who practice Social Security law face considerable economic pressure. The attorney fee provisions of the Social Security Act were designed to allow claimants to have representation. This right could be effectively eliminated over coming years unless something changes. One important way that the Acting Commissioner of Social Security could assure that claimants don't lose their right to representation is to increase the cap on Social Security attorney fees. It's currently $6,000. The Social Security Act allows the Acting Commissioner to raise this to adjust for inflation but does not require that she do so. If adjusted for inflation, the cap would now be over $7,000. It's past time to raise the cap.
Every time I write about attorney fees, I get the response from some Social Security employees that attorneys who represent claimants are lazy, that they do nothing for the money they're paid. Those who would post this need to ask themselves the question "If representing Social Security claimants is such easy money, why don't I leave my job with the agency and jump on this gravy train?" After all, who goes to law school with the intention of never representing a real live client? Get out there and show the world how it should be done!
Social Security employs thousands of attorneys but hardly a one of them has left Social Security to represent Social Security claimants in recent years. What does that tell you?
And by the way, when I post about attorney fees I usually get responses from some Administrative Law Judges that go something like "When I was in private practice, I spent hundreds of hours doing depositions and meeting with my client and other witnesses in each individual case. Social Security attorneys don't do anything like that so they're worthless." Those who post this tend to forget that they or their firms were being paid tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars a case. You try spending hundreds of hours on each Social Security case when the total possible fee is no more than $6,000 and see how long you last. The challenge in representing Social Security claimants is doing a professional job when economics require you to represent lots of clients. Give it a try and find out for yourself just how easy that is.